Writing white papers: why average won't work

Average content undermines your brand warns Jakob Nielsen, the usability expert. He calls it Information Pollution.

So, how do you stop polluting and write a white paper with authority? There are four principles.

  1. Demonstrate authority on your customer's business problem.
  2. Use the logic of value to persuade.
  3. Clarity from squeezing maximum meaning from every word.
  4. Interesting: spike and sustain reader curiosity.

Principle #1: Demonstrate authority on your customer's business problem

The key elements of an authoritative white paper are:

Evidence of differentiated understanding

Gain customer respect by starting your white paper with an authoritative assessment of their business problem. It's the reason your solution (and business) exists. Build your authority on experience not abstractions or second hand analyst reports. Demonstrate original ideas and highlight your superior, differentiated understanding. Show don't tell. Self proclaimed thought leaders usually aren't.

A professional, balanced tone

Don't mumble. Speak clearly. The customer wants your point of view. Be balanced and show customers respect. Acknowledge they have alternatives and explain why your solution is better.

As Robert Levine reports in his book, The Power of Persuasion:

"Many studies show that communicators who present both sides of an argument -- both for and against their agenda -- are perceived as less partial and more trustworthy."

More nudge than push

After reading your white paper, the reader should want to engage in a conversation about your solution to find out more about its specific application. Encourage action, but don't demand it. You are marketing, not selling. Educating, not preaching.

Next principle: Build your argument on value.

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